Less than than a month ago, County of Orange Fire and EMS (COFEMS) units once again rolled out of Rescue Station 23 on Berry Hill Road. Last Tuesday, county officials and COFEMS staff rolled a unit back into the recently renovated station.
Chief Nathan Mort ceremoniously “washed off the wheels” of one of the medic units, a time-honored tradition harkening back to days when fire apparatus was pulled by horses. Then, those assembled teamed to push the unit back into the station.
For two years, COFEMS staff and the medic unit serving the Town of Orange answered calls from its quarters at the Orange County Airport, after an impasse between the county and the former volunteer Orange County Rescue Squad (OCRS).
In 2017, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance dissolving the volunteer rescue organization as an independent emergency medical services agency. Following that, it moved its operations from the volunteers’ Berry Hill Road station to a temporary station at the airport while it worked out an agreement with OCRS. Ultimately, the few OCRS members who were left turned over their assets to the county, paving the way for the unit’s move back to town.
County supervisors spent $165,000 to renovate the station to accommodate medics who work 24-hour shifts. Improvements included upgraded crew quarters, lighting, HVAC systems, sprinkler systems and fire detection equipment.
Mort said the crews were eager to move into their own building.
“I’ve seen the progression of this building. The county really put a lot of work into the renovation and it shows,” current COFEMS medic and former OCRS volunteer Amy Altman said at Tuesday’s dedication. “The fact that there are no work-related items upstairs makes it a relaxing environment.”
“We have pride and ownership by having our own place,” her co-worker Ryan Wilson added. “It’s nice we can make this our home. You always feel more comfortable in your own place.”
Both cited the logistical advantages of responding to calls from a station in town, rather than at the airport.
“Being back in town makes a big difference,” Altman said. “It’s probably a four-to-five minute difference in terms of response time.”
“It puts us closer to the community we’re serving,” Wilson added.
Orange Mayor Martha Roby, a former OCRS volunteer, said she has long been asked if and when the unit would return to town. Then, those questions shifted to, “was it worth it?”
“Yes,” she answered. “I’m so glad they’re back in town. It took a while, but we have a much better situation here now than if they’d just moved back.”
“It took a little longer than we wanted, but we did it meticulously and it turned out really nice,” District 4 Supervisor Jim Crozier said. “This building once again is what it needs to be.
“This facility is not just good for today, but for the long term,” he added. “And to the personnel who will be working out of it: here’s your new station.”